The parking lot team has a job, and it’s to show you where to park your car and help you find your way inside for worship. The coffee team gets there early and brews a holy brew for people to wake up to. Greeters and ushers are specially trained in the fine art of bulletin distribution. God gives gifts and passions, calling people in the church of all ages to step up and fill a needed role, which is part of what makes the church so wonderfully unique. We’re especially thankful for the nursery workers who have the gift of diaper management.
Our worship team — musicians, technicians, and production-types — are just one of the many teams that function to support a worship gathering. These folks take time to rehearse, they show up early for sound checks, and are often the last ones to their cars, carrying stuff like guitars and sheet music for next week’s service. Largely unpaid and remarkably passionate about their craft, our church worship teams are fueled by artists who have the skill to fill the needed role of defining a worship environment. Keyboardists turn scales into dramatic and soulful licks, guitarists soar above and come back down to shred even more, vocalists bring meaningful lyrics to life, and drummers keep it all together so we can all agree about the location of beats 1, 2, 3, and 4. People are blessed and are usually invited to sing along with the provided lyrics from a minister of media, aided by sound reinforcement by the sound tech. Essentially the CEO of the band, the sound tech who is the final gatekeeper for who gets through (and who doesn’t). Many of these people have years of lessons, practice, training, and experience that makes them truly excellent, and, dare we say, “professional”, at least by church volunteer standards — and some are truly professional artists during the week, too.
This can be a bit intimidating to some people in our congregation. Okay, maybe not every church has an intimidating worship team, but that’s not the point. No matter how complex your worship style, most churches do have this in common: some kind of platform/stage/featured place for our worship leaders, and some kind of sense that these people need more than a fifteen minute training session to do this work. Of course we want everyone in the room to participate, but we may communicate an unintended message, namely that this is a performance by a professional team of musicians, and you’ll do best to just not get in the way. Let the coffee team make the coffee, let the ushers…ush (?) and let the worship team do their worship for us because, after all, they’ve worked hard at this. Oh, and let the nursery workers do their vital work, too, and please don’t get in the way of that. Amen.
When it comes to participatory congregational worship, we’ve got a few things going against us before we even start the service. How do we teach our people that worship is a communal work done by everyone in the church for sake of God’s glory and mutual encouragement? This takes definition, intention, and reminders.
First, we must define worship as a work of the people, which is what the word liturgy really means. Though a team has rehearsed and refined, the final goal is not a tight band or clever mixture of songs, prayers, and media elements. All of these expressions must submit to the great purpose of worship, which is for redeemed human beings to magnify Father, Son, and Spirit. It might be as simple as reminding our congregations from time to time that our worship together is designed for everyone in the room to encounter God, and that the worship team is just there to get the ball rolling. We sing/play so that you are supported in your singing (or playing, if the ushers are handing out instruments at the door).
Second, we must be intentional about our worship environments. Our stages, sound, and lights are recent developments in church history, and just as we were intentional about moving those stylistic elements into place over the last 30 years or so, we need to be intentional about making sure we have an environment of barrier-free worship. Common barriers include focus on the “talent” and not Christ, songs with melodies designed for performance and not participation, and technology that distracts. The best artists and systems, by the way, are the ones we don’t really notice because God is at the center of it all.
Third, we must be regular in reminding everyone of these truths. We are creatures of habits who use patterns to survive and thrive. Pastors, worship leaders, and worship team members slide into a Sunday-to-Sunday routine which, while rich and varied, is thankfully predictable in many ways, otherwise we’d burn out quickly. Because of our natural tendency to rut, we need to keep coming back to some kind of worship team motto, perhaps something like: we’re here to serve the Lord by serving His people as we all worship together or the classic it’s not about me.
God has gifted people in the body of Christ for works of service, and that includes artistic gifts expressed through technology and music. But make no mistake: We’re all on the worship team.